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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Author Writing Prompt with Fran Orenstein + Giveaway!

Welcome to Author Writing Prompt Week 2! This week, I'm hosting children/YA author Fran Orenstein. She has a wonderful prompt for you guys, and I hope you'll join in.

Rules: All you have to do is comment, including your name email address to be entered for a chance to win Fran's book  The Spice Merchant's Daughter! You may also post your work for the prompt as well. We would all love to see it!
(Giveaway open to US/Canada residents only!)

Fran Orenstein, Ed.D., award-winning author and poet, wrote her first poem at eight and received her first rejection for a short story at age twelve. Her published credits include a ‘tween mystery series, The Mystery Under Third Base and The Mystery of the Green Goblin, a fantasy series for ‘tweens, The Wizard of Balalac and The Gargoyles of Blackthorne, and the second edition of a ‘tween fiction novel dealing with childhood obesity and bullying, Fat Girls From Outer Space, two young adult historical romances, The Spice Merchant’s Daughter, and, coming in June 2011, The Calling of the Flute. Her poetry book for young children is out-of-print, but she plans to reissue it with additional poems in 2012. 
Moving into literature for adults, prize-winning short stories and poetry have appeared in various anthologies. A book of poetry is currently in the works for publication in late 2011. Fran is currently seeking a publisher for a recently completed novel about a woman’s most devastating loss and her eventual redemption.
Fran wrote professionally as a magazine editor/writer, and also wrote political speeches, newsletters, legislation, and promotional material for New Jersey State Government for fourteen years. She produced professional papers on gender equity and violence prevention, which were presented at national and international conferences.
Fran has plans for more books in the ‘tween mystery series, as well as more YA historical romance novels. She also has plans for a second woman’s novel dealing with marital emotional abuse. She is currently writing the third book in the fantasy series, The Centaurs of Spyr.

Beating The Block: one writer’s cure
by Fran Orenstein
Scenario: The Bard sits at a table, quill in hand, creating words that will live on for 400 years, perhaps a thousand years; words spoken by actors over the centuries, memorized by school children. He strokes his beard, scratches his head. Putting quill to paper he writes,   “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar….”  
Just then he is interrupted, perhaps Anne calls him to dinner, or a blot of ink ruins the paper. When he returns a day or so later his mind is blank. Why was this character Marc Anthony going to make a speech? Is it a necessary speech? What was the purpose? Is he wasting his time creating a play out of some ancient murder nobody cares about any more. He fiddles with the fire that is dying in the hearth. He checks the inkwell, sharpens the quill, stares out the window. He does everything but write the next sentence. Imagine Julius Caesar never written because William Shakespeare developed a writer’s block that he couldn’t break. 
At some point during the writing experience, every writer gets blocked. I have gone into a manuscript that was flowing beautifully and couldn’t write another word. It seemed boring, inane, insipid. What was I thinking? Who would want to read this? Yet, just yesterday it was exciting. 
Have you ever closed down the computer, covered the typewriter, or put the pen in a drawer, and your stomach churns every time you think of starting again? I have a simple solution that works every time. I go back to the beginning of the manuscript and start editing and rewriting. As I move along, I realize it’s really good. I understand why I chose to write it. By the time I reach the point of yesterday’s despair, I know what comes next. Even if I only write one page, I’ve moved on. 
Once I learned that, I always go to the beginning of the previous chapter and read it through. I generally find things to add or change and it inspires me to continue writing. Bedsides breaking the block, I’ve been editing and rewriting as I go along. Every writer has some technique or there would not be any books. This is one suggestion and the next time you face writer’s block, try rereading to get back into the thread and feeling of the story. Whatever you do, don’t give up…it isn’t fatal. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Spice Merchant's Daughter by Fran Orenstein

The Spice Merchant's Daughter by Fran Orenstein 5 of 5 stars.

In 1685, Jean-Claude Dubois, son of a French spice merchant, escapes from the violence against Protestant Huguenots and sails to Prussia. Jean-Claude falls in love with Marie and they marry and have a daughter, Katy. At thirteen, fluent in French, Katy is sent away to be the companion of spoiled, aristocratic Charlotte, to tutor her for a marriage into French nobility. Katy must accompany her to France, where she meets the blacksmith's apprentice, Gilles. Their love appears doomed, when the family takes her to Versailles for the wedding. They remain there for two years, while Charlotte's lecherous brother Franz pursues Katy to become his mistress and although terrified of him, Katy is powerless to help herself. Finally Katy and Gilles are reunited when the family returns, but Franz, enraged at Katy's stubborn refusal, frames Gilles for attempted murder, sending the young couple fleeing for their lives across the French countryside. (book blurb)

The Spice Merchant's Daughter opens through the eyes of Jean-Claude Dubois as he is making his escape from France with his younger brothers in tow. It then continues to follow him all the way to Prussia and to the new life he has made for himself there, away from the King of France's tyranny. When his oldest daughter, Katy, is thirteen the narrative switches to her.

It is a heart-wrenching look at the lives of people in that time, particularly women. Forced into becoming a sort of governess and companion to the young Ms. Charlotte, Katy slowly becomes a young woman as she falls in love, stands up to the King of France, and helps Charlotte through her own rough spots.

Fran Orenstein did a remarkable job with this novel. Her prose has the rich and wonderfully simplistic tone of a storyteller. I believe that The Spice Merchant's Daughter would make a great audio-book, and that isn't something I say very often.

The cast of character was interesting and fairly well-rounded. From Charlotte and her betrothed to Katy's own struggling parents and her love Gilles, they all added something unique and different to the story; contributing toward a many-threaded plot. I must say, though, that I didn't quite understand Gilles as a whole. His love for Katy didn't seem quite genuine, and beyond that love I don't see any other motivations for his actions throughout the book. More than likely, however, this is just me reading too deep into the story.

While I liked the book as a whole very much and hardly put it down the entire time I read it, I didn't really enjoy the beginning from Jean-Claude's point-of-view. As soon as the story switched to his daughter it was like another book entirely. The writing gained depth and the plot thickened into something concrete.

This is a YA novel, in my opinion, based on the content, but I do think that the younger end of the YA audience will enjoy the story much more.  That said, it is best to keep in mind that this novel does have sexual content that some under 13 might not feel completely comfortable reading.

To order The Spice Merchant's Daughter from Amazon.com, please click here.

Click here to check out Fran Orenstein's website!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 5 of 5 stars.

Jane Eyre is the single most mesmerizing novel I've ever read. The voice is rich and conversational with enough darkness to keep you on the edge of your seat. The book was literally glued to my hands the entire time I read it. I couldn't get over little Jane Eyre's deep and sometimes rather dangerous thoughts. The musings of the writer that dealt such universal and frightening truths.

I've never been a huge fan of the brooding, scary male lead. Like Mr. Darcy for instance. Yeah, sure, Colin Firth made him awesome, but he really wasn't all that wonderful in the book. However, there was something vastly different about Mr. Rochester. Everybody says he isn't a loveable character, but I think just the opposite. He's not dark and scary all of the time, there is a levity to him that takes away from his gruffness. And then, of course, the man has been hurt so many times in his life. Despite (in most cases) trying to do the right and honorable thing, he finds himself in one horrible position right after the other. It makes you want to cheer for him despite his pride and arrogance.

Jane is also, officially, one of my favorite heroines. Her unique way of thinking and independence made me want to keep listening to her. I was terribly disappointed when the book ended. She was strong, courageous but also gentle and kind. You don't find that in many modern heroines. The way she stood up to St. John was incredible. Jane will take a lot, but in the end she will let no one trample over her. Jane talks about needing a person with a strong will around her, as though she doesn't have one of her own. But Mr. Rochester recognizes the indomitable strength within her.

My favorite parts of the book were the verbal sparring matches between Jane and Mr. Rochester. They are a bit hard to keep up with but absolutely hilarious (and at times frightening) if you can. Its remarkable how well matched the two are in intellect and it adds considerably to the strength of their bond.

This book is the kind of love story that you don't necessarily want in your own life. Its full of heartbreak, secrets, and more pain then any two people deserve. It is what's at the heart of this love story that makes us crave it for ourselves. It is the fact that these two remarkably similar people, these kindred spirits could find each other that makes us want a love like that between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. That they--in the end--could reach beyond social and economical barriers and be together is the beauty of it.

I have heard some say that Rochester's wife being locked in the attic is symbolic of the way women were treated at the time. I don't believe that. I don't think there is anything really symbolic about it, though there may be some parrallels with insanity or a person not being virtuous at all. As I see this part in the story, I think that the way Rochester treated Bertha Mason was the kindest thing he could do. He had been through so much and could have basically left her at any of his other estates (or sent her to an asylum which, during that time period, would have been far more cruel) instead he kept her where he could watch over her and where she would be taken care of. Even when she was nothing more than a burden and a danger to his happiness and his life, he kept her. 

Charlotte Bronte crafted a novel that could withstand the test of time and leave its reader with love for the characters long after the story had ended. Her gothic prose and rich description make the story a masterpiece.

Below I have embedded a trailer for the latest screen adaptation of Jane Eyre though I have not had a chance of seeing it myself yet. My favorite out of the ones I have seen is the 1983 version.

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